University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

The Evolution of an Idea

Reinventing the automobile

Many Canadians enjoy spending their summer vacation at a cottage, campground or in the countryside. A lot of us also spend more time than we like in traffic trying to get to and from these places. How discouraging, then, that the vehicles we use to escape into nature are potentially causing it so much damage. Thankfully, that may not be the case for much longer.

Researchers at U of T, as well as graduates of the university working in the private sector (and many scientists around the world), are seeking to develop a commercially viable alternative to the 120-year-old internal combustion engine. Although hybrid cars that use both a regular gasoline-powered engine and an electric battery are already on the road, many believe that the hybrid is the forerunner to a new kind of non-polluting vehicle powered by hydrogen. As John Lorinc writes in this issue’s cover feature, there are significant technical and cost problems that must be solved before hydrogen-powered cars can be successfully mass-produced. But many U of T researchers are confident these challenges will be met.

Zero-emissions vehicles powered by hydrogen are attractive from an environmental perspective, but are not the only alternative on the horizon. U of T chemist David Boocock has devised a way to convert waste animal fat into an energy-rich biodiesel fuel that, when burned, produces significantly less pollution than regular gasoline. Professor Boocock took his concept to the University of Toronto Innovations Foundation, which helped him find investors and develop a commercially viable product. Biox, the company that was subsequently formed to produce the biodiesel fuel, has received more than $35 million in financing. Its first refinery will open in Hamilton, Ont., this fall.

The office of the vice-president (research) and associate provost at U of T works with scientists at all three campuses and the affiliated hospitals to identify promising new technologies and take them to market. U of T’s ultimate goal is to ensure that Canadians benefit in tangible ways from public investment in scientific research. Not every idea makes it to the marketplace, but the university boasts an excellent track record so far.

U of T Magazine contributors have a pretty good track record, too, winning three awards this year from the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE) and the U.S.-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Photographer Sandy Nicholson picked up gold from CCAE for his underwater photo of deep-sea explorer Dr. Joseph MacInnis in our Winter 2005 issue. Journalist and author Trevor Cole won silver for his article about business ethics (“Why Good People Do Bad Things”) in the same issue. CASE awarded the silver medal for best cover to artist Anita Kunz, whose illustration of a man with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other graced the cover of our Winter 2005 issue. Congratulations to all, and thanks to our designers, Shelley Frayer and James Ireland at Ireland & Associates in Toronto, who guide us so well in matters of photography, illustration and design.

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